There's one commodity in this expensive life that is free to all on the planet, regardless of race, class, sex, or age. You don't even have to ask for it or go to any great lengths to gain it. It requires no special skills to obtain or appreciate. In fact, without a doubt, everyone has already experienced it. It sounds wonderful. It isn't. It's masturbation. Erm, no sorry, it's BOREDOM.
Boredom is a fascinating subject. Or maybe not. Actually, I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty bored already and I'm only a few lines into this discussion on the greatest scourge of modern life. This just goes to show how freely available it is, sleeting out of the environment in massive amounts, easily absorbed at the first opportunity.
From childhood, I've always thought that I've been more susceptible than most to being bored. I think it was the seemingly enormous amount of time I spent moping around the house moaning "I'm bored". But it's only recently that I've experienced boredom in such amounts that, having some time on my hands and being bored silly, I actually gave the subject some serious thought (for about five minutes, then I got bored). For instance, has anyone actually considered just how much boredom influences our lives? People will go to any lengths to avoid it, from reading Jackie Collins novels in airport lounges to hang-gliding to keeping the Sunday Express next to the bog. On Saturday nights, huge amounts of the Great British Public will actually switch on the telly and watch it, purely to avoid boredom. Desperate lengths indeed, as you'll know if you've ever watched a Cilla Black special with a half-active mind (which begs the question - how bored must Cilla Black be if she's driven to make the damned programmes??!). And so the cry goes out - how can we fill our leisure time and thus avoid boredom??
The ever-increasing interest in sport must be one answer. Let's face it, kicking a ball round on Sunday afternoon with twenty-one other sweaty bodies may sound like a rivetting spectacle to rival defrosting the freezer, but compared to the sheer tedium of boredom, it must be exciting. Even to watch. Rock climbing - there's something that makes you wonder. To counteract boredom, these day-glo lunatics will want to crawl up a vertical cliff face ("because it's there"), gaining cut hands and knackered limbs and risking a rather fragmented death several thousand feet below (admittedly, falling occupies the mind for all of a few seconds, and thereafter boredom isn't a problem anymore unless heaven is as dull as the church makes it out to be), all to avoid sitting at home twiddling their thumbs. At least sitting at home twiddling your thumbs, you can be sure of remaining uninterrupted for a while, instead of possibly being smeared over some granite any second. But no, they'd rather face death than spend life being bored. Pretty powerful stuff if it can force someone sitting in an armchair to think "Nah, fuck it, I'll go for a stroll up Great Gable and try my luck."
Another method of gainful employment, I've just realised, is crime. Going out on the town and knifing someone may be antisocial and rather unpleasant but hey, at least it helps to pass the time, right? And crime is something that can keep anything from two to two hundred people occupied. For instance, if you rob a bank, you entertain the staff and customers for a brief moment and the police and the insurance company for quite a while afterwards, as well as yourself, lying low in Bradford, worrying about every knock at the door. And if you bungle the robbery, you can stretch the excitement over a few days during the subsequent siege, climaxing with yourself and maybe a few innocent bystanders being shot down when the police assault squad storm the place. But enough of this idle fantasising, it's beginning to bore me.
There's different types and strengths of boredom, and measurement between them is all relative. For example, being stuck in a seedy bed and breakfast in Bognor Regis during a rainy week when Wimbledon isn't on, is quite boring. However, if you happened to be sharing self same room with your nearest and dearest, then who gives a toss about the weather or the telly?!
An altogether classier style of boredom is that "endured" by the idle rich, as they are always keen to tell you. Cynthia and Gerald Havington-Lotts might have absolutely nothing to do between engagements/getting engaged, but at least they know the time could not be more gainfully employed by the need to perform some tedious task or other, eg. working for a living. And further their moans and petty social intrigues occupy the minds of the tabloid reading public at breakfast everyday, even if it does mean keeping the oily smudge that is Nigel Dempster in a job - you can't have everything. If newspapers really want to report on the activities of a privileged few who spend all their time lying in bed, going to parties, getting drunk and getting laid, then why don't they come to Penglais campus?
At the other end of the scale is the mundane, everyday kind of boredom experienced by ordinary members of the public countrywide, from unemployed council flat tenants to legions of housewives. There is an answer for this kind of tedium - it's called Daytime TV. A cocktail of amateur cookery programmes ("Now just pour the baked beans evenly over that lovely golden brown toast ..."), low budget chat shows with guests who can't even get on Wogan anymore ("Andy Pandy used to be a household name for millions of children, but what's he been up to recently?" - "Well Debbie, after I finished the Pantomime seventeen years ago ..."), diverting little countryside documentaries ("A look at a day in the life of Harold Scroggin, muck spreader for forty years"), half-wit quiz shows ("C-T, what's the missing letter, and I'll give you a clue - it's an animal" - "Is it fish, Michael?" - "Close enough, you've won the train tickets to Scarborough!"), Neighbours ("Rack off, Mike!") and things worse than Neighbours (eg. Knots Landing). The purpose of this cheapo fill-in for the afternoon slot is to reduce the minds of those watching to cabbages which don't no longer care what they watch, thus boosting the audience for Saturday evening programmes. And amazingly, judging by the viewing figures, even this is better than boredom. But not half as good as suicide.
Boredom has a peculiarly ambiguous quality. What, precisely, is it? That weird state when your mind checks the evidence of your senses and wishes it hadn't bothered? The singular thought of "I'm bored"? That desperate casting for something, anything to do, and finding nothing? Not even turning on Knots Landing? When I'm bored, my mind starts to invent things to occupy itself - "The minute hand on the clock moved then! I'm sure it moved! Keep watching, it might do it again ... There! No, maybe not ... Bastard, I'll spot it yet!" - or - "Perhaps while I'm sitting here, someone has dropped the bomb? I'm sure I heard a distant explosion just then ... perhaps I should tear the door down and build a shelter ... Dad wouldn't like it ... He wouldn't like it if I filled the lounge with sandbags either ... I wonder where you get hold of sandbags? Who makes them ...?" etc. The mind enters incredible slaloms of thought, shooting along slippery paths of utter bollocks and making brief stops at completely ridiculous notions, and what starts as an idle observation about the washing up can finish with one wondering if the Prime Minister is on the toilet at that precise moment. Occasionally, in a small pause between changing subject, I think "Christ, I'm bored!". And meanwhile the next few hours stretch out like the rest of eternity, with nowt to fill them.
But finally managing to subdue my out of control thinking for a momentary respite, I came up with the following scale of boredom, by dint of long hours of tedious research conducted over weeks, and without the aid of a grant. If you wish to fund further research into methods of alleviating the problem (I am considering a number of promising possibilities from holidays in Bermuda to installing a jacuzzi to cocaine, all of which require funds I do not possess), please send your donations to: "I'm bored with my money, PO Box 9, Aberystwyth". Similarly, if you want to stop me from doing any further research in the interest of the national health, do likewise.
Degrees of Boredom
Minus - your life is terminally interesting. At this very moment you are probably hanging out of an airplane for dear life, facing an armed mugger, or becoming aware that the man you have just pushed past to get to the bar is the local godfather. Your life is certainly free from boredom, if unlikely to last much longer.
None - You are engaged in any one of a number of interesting and enlightening activities, from sex to reading a good book to rock climbing to playing the guitar at Wembley Stadium. Your mind is fully and satisfyingly occupied. Alternatively, you are dead - put this down and get back in the box.
Low - You are in a lecture.
- You are reading a Jackie Collins novel.
- You are doing the washing up.
- You are watching Madonna in concert.
Moderate - You are watching a local football match.
- You are watching a local hockey match.
- You are watching Millwall and the riots haven't started yet.
- You are watching Saturday evening telly.
- You are watching Saturday evening telly and Cilla Black is on.
- You are watching Saturday evening telly and the Saturday thriller is on.
- You are watching paint dry, and finding it interesting.
- You have started watching Neighbours if it is on.
High - You are in Aberdeen and it's the weekend.
- You regularly tune into Neighbours and usually leave the TV on for the remainder of the afternoon.
- You know all the characters and the current plot of Neighbours in detail, and have just started watching Knots Landing. At the weekends you go train-spotting.
- You are familiar with most of the afternoon soaps, including all the Australian ones (Young Doctors, etc.), and have just started to watch Take The High Road on a regular basis. You have given up train-spotting and started collecting bus tickets instead.
Very High - You are in a seedy B&B in Aberdeen, the TV is showing long repeat runs of Take The High Road, the only books available are a cheap paperback thriller called "The Butler Did It", "The Neighbours File", and two Emmerdale Farm novels, it's throwing it down outside, you're here for a year, all the paintwork is dry, there are no banks to rob, you are the only guest, it's Sunday, teatime is not for another four hours, you threw your last bus ticket out yesterday and finally, the room is full of clocks.
- If you are any more bored than that, you shouldn't be reading this crap, you should be writing it.
... Sigh, I'm bored.